I recently wrapped up a three-week run filling in as co-host on The Writer’s Block on LA Talk Radio for Jim Christina. Happily, Jim has recovered from a lengthy illness and has resumed his chair on the show.
Part of what is done for show prep is that the hosts read the book by the author who is that week’s guest. And I was fortunate enough to catch three very good books by three very great authors. So I thought what better way to kick off the bi-weekly Richard’s Review feature here than to start off with these three books.
This week, we begin with Kathleen Rodgers’ latest book, The Flying Cutterbucks. The first thing I want to say about The Flying Cutterbucks is that I really wanted to love this book. I met Kathleen years ago through the Writer’s Block and we are both escapees from a literary agent we are both happy to no longer be associated with. Also, I’ve read her previous books and they were great. I expected no less from The Flying Cutterbucks.
The short story here is: It was good, not great. And the reason why it fell short is this: I get that using the turmoil around the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections – especially the allegations of sexual misconduct and some of the language used by Trump during his campaign – was an important plot trigger to start us down the path of the main character’s recollection of an incident back in 1974.
Had Kathleen used that trigger and then left it there at the beginning of the book, this would have been a great story. But instead, we were bludgeoned to death with constant “Orange Man Bad” references by every character, save one guy with the obligatory red MAGA hat, to the point where I found myself thinking: “Okay, Kathleen, we get it. You hate Trump. So do a lot of folks. A lot of folks don’t. Move on already!”
It took away from the storyline enough to where I could only give this book 4 out of 5 stars if I were to leave a rating on Amazon for it. And that’s a shame, because if you filter out the “Orange Cheeto” remarks and focus on the main storyline, this is a very good read.
We are introduced to, Trudy Cutterbuck, a former airline stewardess, now divorced, who is returning to her old hometown of Pardon, in northeastern New Mexico, after being away for years. She is moving in with her mother, who has become something of a hoarder. Her father had disappeared in Vietnam while flying a mission during the war in 1972 and had never been found.
The Presidential campaign has stirred up memories of a terrible night in 1974 when a cousin was killed after being struck by a train. But as the story progresses, we begin to realize someone much more sinister may have occurred that day and the three women who were there may be hiding a terrible secret.
As Trudy starts to sort through the memories, both in the house and in her mind, she reconnects with an old flame from high school, who happens to be a police detective. Adding to the mystery of Pardon – when Trudy and her mother go for a late evening visit to her brother’s gravesite, he’d died young and shortly after the father’s disappearance – a mysterious woman shows up and vandalizes the deceased cousin’s nearby gravesite with one spray painted word – Rapist.
We eventually discover what really happened to the cousin back in 1974. We have been presented with a great mystery and now we are about to behold the fallout of a secret held for nearly 40 years. Instead it is at this point when what should have been a great ending to a great book fails to present itself.
Expecting the detective to explore the meaning behind the vandalized grave and have the trail lead back to Trudy and what should have been an emotional showdown we instead get…
…a female priest granting absolution for over thirty years of hiding the truth, even though I doubt a jury in the world would have convicted anyone, and a nice tidy SJW/Girl Power ending. And we never find out if she ever confessed the truth to her lover.
Toss in the Book Club questions at the back of the book – this is a red flag to me that here is a book to avoid – and you get a good book instead of a great one.
And that kind of makes me sad. Because Kathleen really set up a great story and then pulled the rug out from under us. We didn’t need the “Orange Man Bad” theme after the trigger moment and we needed the main characters to face some form of accountability for their actions in 1974.
We needed that moment of discovery, when Trudy told her detective boyfriend the truth, those moments of uncertainty while he weighed if he should respond as the detective, or the boyfriend.
Those moments would have made this a great book, not just a good one.